A few years ago my husband and I welcomed a close family member onto the small liberal arts college campus where we both work—he as an administrator and me as a part-time professor. We are both alumni, raising our children steps from the campus.
We were thrilled to have her and thankful for another set of hands since we’d just welcomed our second daughter into our family. She seemed to love it, too. Until she was raped on campus a few months into the semester, less than 100 yards from where we live. We were all devastated.
During the investigation, we found out that she was given alcohol in a male student’s dorm room. When she was blacked out, he offered his victim to his friends and anyone else in the dorm that night. Room to room, person to person he asked and he offered. No students took him up on this offer but a friend of a student who was visiting campus did. At a small school like ours, you only have to check in guests if they are staying overnight so there would be no record of who this person was and our family member was too incapacitated to identify anyone. To this day, we know nothing about him and we probably never will.
Who we do know is the person who planned the assault. He was not simply a bystander who was unable or unwilling to intervene to keep someone else safe, but a calculating and manipulating participant. Although he did not commit the assault himself, we hold the student who brought our family member back to his room and groomed her for the other person culpable of this rape.
We knew him well, this student. The program my husband created helped him come to our school. He played with our kids. We supported him academically. He befriended our family member. In the end, he knew what he did, we knew what he did—and he wasn’t happy about that.
Unlike many schools, ours acted quickly and fiercely to bring justice. I will be eternally grateful. It was actually the reports of two other students that brought the rape to light, they knew it was wrong and reported it. Like most victims, I doubt that our family member would have reported what she had endured on her own either out of shame or fear, or both. Her friends loved her enough to speak out for her and we thank them.
Before the official sanctions came through at the end of the semester, I found myself walking my girls through campus and saw him a couple of hundred feet away. I did everything to avoid him but he followed us. When he caught up to us, he attempted small talk and tried to reach out and touch my daughters. I told him to leave my family alone, among other things.
Weeping and running, I hid with my girls in the Student Development Office until security and my husband could get there. The student was asked by the school to stay away from us and was swiftly expelled by semester’s end. We were free. Or so we thought.
Just about a month later, he was back. Although he was not allowed on campus, he tried to attend a basketball game. He made eye contact with us and we quickly called attention to security, who escorted him out of the gym. He did not, however, leave campus. He was found in the women’s dorm shortly after and was asked to leave again.
We quickly found out this young man was now attending another school in our athletic conference, which meant we’d be seeing him regularly at games. It was easy for him to move because the sanctions—expulsion because of sexual assault—did not appear anywhere on his transcript. The Department of Education allows for this information to be given in cases of violence or sexual assault, but most schools do not include it and many institutions receiving a transfer do not ask for that information.
At games, he continues to harass fans and athletes. I watch the faces of the students at his new school and think “Has he done the same to you?” and “Are you safe?” The school he transferred to and its students have no knowledge of why he was expelled or that a predator lives among them. It is often left off transcripts as a means to get the student out as soon as possible or to “extend some grace.” And us? My family? Well, we are silent. Individuals risk lawsuits of slander or other legal issues when speaking out publically in situations like this.
Our family member left school and some days I envy her. Some days I wish I could run far away from my work and home to places that hold no memories of this time in our life. Either lacking the motivation to return to campus or just not getting caught, we haven’t seen him on our campus since. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t tried to make contact. He has contacted current and former students saying how he misses our girls but likes watching them grow up online. We tried to get a restraining order last year, but it was turned down because the law here in Massachusetts requires three instances of face-to-face harassment. We had two so we continue to wait until the next time.
Rape does not end after the assault is over. The rape of one student is a rape of our collective consciousness, educational ideals, physical and emotional safety. Not just in the real and present danger it still presents to my family and families like mine, but to the goals and aspirations of higher education as a whole. We cannot allow our colleges and universities to breathe a sigh of relief when a perpetrator transfers to another school.
Although the Department of Education allows the release of disciplinary records on transcripts, it does not mandate it. By law, schools are required to investigate every report of sexual assault. Then, if a student is found culpable, the school is required to enforce sanctions under Title IX. Those sanctions vary greatly in depth and enforcement but what we know is that when someone is expelled, schools rarely provide that information to the next institution.
Colleges and universities across the country are afraid of being associated with sexual assault on their campuses. Even though we know the numbers are overwhelming and that rape happens on every campus, schools cower at the thought that someone will know that it happens on theirs. It is too easy to buy into the lie that when a perpetrator leaves one school they are no longer a threat; the average college rapist has six victims and the threat continues. A threat at one school is a threat to every school.
Instead of hushing up rape reports, schools should be encouraged to share expulsion and disciplinary record information on transcripts: it’s in their financial interests. We know that victims are much more likely to transfer or withdraw than perpetrators, so if every school has one perpetrator, they stand to lose the tuition of multiple victims by keeping the perpetrator on campus and losing the victims. The same can be said for the school accepting the transfer.
Bringing someone to campus who is a known perpetrator also opens the school up to the substantial possibility that they will perpetrate there. If they do so, the school risks losing the trust of the campus, the safety of the victim or victims, the tuition of the victims who will likely withdraw and any money the institution will be forced to pay out in the event of a successful lawsuit. Until expulsion and disciplinary records are required to be shared, all schools need to ask for them.
While advocating for change at the national level, we need to make these policy changes within our own schools instead of waiting for a government mandate. We as institutions are not only accountable to our students, but all students. It is our moral and ethical responsibility to protect, creating an educational environment free of rape culture. I refuse to be content in a profession that loudly espouses views of equality and freedom but whispers the horrors of rape on its campuses. Silence is no longer acceptable.
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